July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, an important day to bring awareness to the viral infection that impacts the lives of so many.
According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, HBV is the primary cause of liver cancer, which is the #2 cause of cancer deaths worldwide. In the U.S. alone, Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.
This year’s World Hepatitis Day theme is Hepatitis Can’t Wait, because one person dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness. We, as healthcare practitioners, shouldn’t wait to take action to inform, prevent, and treat.
Patients among the LGBTQ+ community may have an increased risk of infection compared with their heterosexual counterparts, and it is critical for the healthcare community to understand the risk factors that LGBTQ+ patients face.
There are several important steps we can take to inform and support our patients:
Understand the ABCs
The Hepatitis B Foundation outlines the ABCs of Hepatitis, as each type has different means of transmission and symptoms.
- Hepatitis A (HAV):
- Vaccine available. Acute infection transmitted through food and water. No drug treatment needed.
- Hepatitis B (HBV):
- Vaccine available. Infection can be chronic, and transmitted through infected blood (unprotected sex, needles, childbirth). There is no cure, but drug treatments are available.
- Hepatitis C (HCV):
- Currently no vaccine. Infection can be chronic, and transmitted through infected blood (unprotected sex, needles). A cure was discovered in 2013.
- Hepatitis Delta (HDV):
- HBV vaccine can prevent this virus. This infection is transmitted through infected blood (unprotected sex, needles, childbirth) and only possible in patients already infected with HBV.
- Hepatitis E (HEV):
- No vaccine in the U.S., but one available in China. Not chronic, and transmitted through blood, water, and food — often shellfish or pork. There is no HEV drug treatment.
Learn the LGBTQ+ Facts
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares, “Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have a higher chance of getting viral hepatitis including Hepatitis A, B, and C, which are diseases that affect the liver. About 10% of new Hepatitis A and 20% of all new Hepatitis B infections in the United States are among gay and bisexual men.”
Be prepared to discuss the benefits of regular check-ups, vaccinations, and testing for your patients. Experts recommend Hepatitis A and B vaccinations for all gay and bisexual men. Safe, effective prevention is key.
Review Your Intake Process
Be mindful of the questions being asked on your intake forms, and the impression they may make. Would you feel comfortable answering how frequently you have unprotected sex? Do you think your patients would feel similarly?
Additionally, bear in mind that some LGBTQ+ patients may not wish to disclose their sexual orientation — especially if they do not trust that they are in a safe space to do so.
In healthcare, being an LGBTQ+ friendly practice incorporates cultural competence and fostering an inclusive, comfortable environment for all patients. It is important for you and your colleagues to build a foundation of facts, and learn how small changes and considerations can make significant impacts on the lives of your patients.
Dina Proto International, LLC can assess organizational needs in healthcare and help build LGBTQ+ friendly practices and practitioners. On World Hepatitis Day and everyday, you can be the voice of prevention and support.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Viral Hepatitis. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/viral-hepatitis.htm
Hepatitis B Foundation. (n.d.). The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis. Retrieved from https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/the-abcs-of-viral-hepatitis/
World Hepatitis Alliance. (n.d.). World Hepatitis Day 2021: Hepatitis Can’t Wait. Retrieved from https://www.worldhepatitisday.org/